Hoboken residents gathered at two different events to protest human detention camps across the United States this month, when reports broke of standing-room-only cells, outbreaks of illness, and massive Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids.
Council President Jen Giattino sponsored Hoboken’s Lights for Liberty candlelight vigil in Church Square Park on Friday, July 12, one of 700 held across five continents.
The following morning in the same park, council candidates Nora Martinez DeBenedetto and Cristin Cricco-Powell, as well as activist Vera Sirota, hosted a Kids Create for A Cause event in which children created art and wrote letters to send to detainees, while adults wrote postcards to elected officials to call for an end to what some U.S. officials are calling concentration camps.
‘Give me your tired’
“The detention of immigrants, refugees, and families is an inhumane practice that strips individuals of their basic rights,” Giattino said at the vigil before a crowd of residents hoisting signs which read “No one is illegal,” and “Families belong together.”
“Together, we as a city will take a stand for democracy and work toward putting an end to these intolerable conditions,” she said.
Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla said, “Every human being is entitled to dignity and respect,” and added that everyone is entitled to equal protection under the U.S. Constitution.
He said that all Americans are descended from immigrants, and in Hoboken everyone is welcome, noting that one of his first acts as mayor was establishing Hoboken as a Fair and Welcoming City.
Other speakers included council candidate Ronald Bautista, who was himself an undocumented immigrant for 11 years before he received his Green Card at the age of 24, and became a full citizen in 2016.
Councilman Ruben Ramos also spoke tearfully, saying he never would have met his wife, who crossed the border illegally with her family at the age of two, had detention camps been in existence then.
Other speakers included Deacon Jill Singleton, Pastor Gary LeCroy, Rev. Elaine Thomas, Executive Director of the Jubilee Center Veronica Manning, and 15-year-old Hoboken student Caroline Miani.
Hoboken poet Danny Shot, whose parents escaped Nazi Germany, read “The New Colossus,” which is inscribed at the Statue of Liberty.
Singleton urged everyone to speak up and speak out against the camps and apply their unique talents to do what’s right.
“If you’re a writer, write to your elected officials, if you are an organizer, organize a protest, and learn about what you can do to support asylees,” she said noting that you could even provide emergency shelter to give asylum, even if for one night.
Miani questioned why there were detention camps and strict border control along the country’s southern border but not along the northern border. “Where is the dehumanization of the fair-skinned?” she asked, adding that she would fight to restore dignity to the United States.
After the speakers, candles were passed out and lit, and attendees walked around the park singing songs such as “This Little Light of Mine,” “ This Land is Your Land,” and more.
Art and activism
The following morning, at the Children Create for a Cause event, children wrote postcards to detainees and officials, some reading “Close the camps,” “We love you,” and “Spread love not hate.”
Vera Sirota, one of the organizers said, “Just over one year ago, this group of Hoboken residents came together to protest the separation of families at our border. We now know that the conditions are even worse than we feared – this movement is about the fundamental rights of all human beings.”
“The Kids Create for A Cause: Art and Activism event is about imparting to our children that we have a responsibility to help the most vulnerable,” she said. “It is when we stand up, speak out, and organize that ordinary people can alter history, including children.”
Adults wrote postcards to elected officials to call for an end to the camps.
The art created at this event will decorate the homes of newly-resettled local asylee families.
Children were also invited to bring crafts to sell (e.g. friendship and rainbow loom bracelets) with all proceeds going to local organizations serving asylees – including Welcome Home, First Friends, and RAICES.